Review: “Creed”

Post by Ryan Pumroy

For the seventh entry in a film franchise that has seen its share of ups and downs, director Ryan Coogler’s Creed packs one heck of a punch. Okay, that’s my one boxing pun.

At least I avoided some version of “Creed is a knockout,” used by numerous outlets such as TIME, Forbes, and the New Yorker. But they aren’t wrong.

Creed is a great film. It rivals Rocky (1976), but doesn’t surpass it. That’s not a knock against it; it’s a compliment. Time will really be the judge, though.

Michael B. Jordan plays Adonis Johnson. Donnie for short. Early on in the movie, Donnie learns he is the son of boxing legend Apollo Creed — the father he never knew.

The movie opens in 1998 at a juvenile detention center. It seems solely populated by black kids — very young kids at that — certainly a comment on race in America and the criminal justice system. Donnie is fighting a kid that said something about his mom. Here is where we get our first long, unedited tracking shot. Coogler and his editors, Claudia Castello and Michael P. Shawver, use several throughout the film, and they’re delectable. Soon after, Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad) visits Donnie and adopts him.

Smash cut to 2015 Tijuana, Mexico. Donnie fights in amateur boxing matches south of the border. He quits his Los Angeles finance job and moves to Philadelphia to pursue professional boxing. Along the way, he finds love (Tessa Thompson as local musician, Bianca), gains a mentor (Stallone once again as Rocky Balboa), and gets in a few fights both in and out of the ring.

As a film, Creed is well done on all fronts. Coogler shows himself to be a powerful director, using the talents of the cast and crew to make a very compelling movie. The cinematography is beautiful. It’s nuanced and well-paced in writing and editing. The actors give excellent performances all around.

I believe this is Jordan’s first leading role since Fruitvale Station (2013), also written and directed by Coogler. He shines here. Jordan brings a level of emotion to this character that we don’t get to see too much of in black male characters, who are often depicted as more tough or “hard.” Hollywood is still dominated by white leads, but Jordan provides hope that there can be more diversity in our stars.

Stallone is remarkable in Creed. This isn’t the Expendables‘ Sly. He acts his age. Rocky is near 70 years old now. He’s slower than he once was, but he’s still sharp, kind, and filled with wisdom. Just this morning, Stallone received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture. He has a pretty good shot at it. There are rumblings of an Academy Award nomination, too.

In Rocky Balboa (2006), there’s a particular scene where Rocky and his son are talking about the Italian Stallion coming out of retirement. His son says something about facing reality, that the world has changed. Rocky says something along these lines: “Only the clothes are different.” Both Rocky Balboa and Creed have a lot to say about legacy and time.

In Creed, only the clothes are different. The plot parallels Rocky in several ways. Both are underdogs in their own way, thrust into a title fight before they are truly ready. Today, Rocky transplants Mick. The student becomes the master.

What makes Rocky great is the human drama of it all. People scraping by trying to make it; the struggle, overcoming challenges, and finding out that winning means more than having the title.

Creed captures that spirit and soars.

Directed by Ryan Coogler
Screenplay by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington
Starring Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, and Phylicia Rashad
133 minutes
Rated PG-13
Distributed by MGM and Warner Bros. Pictures
United States

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